TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — The HBCU Culture Shop has made history as the first Black-owned HBCU clothing brand to hit Target stores.
Dainelle Riley and Stephanie Walters are the owners of the HBCU Culture Shop. It’s a clothing brand that highlights historically Black colleges and universities, as well as, Black history.
“HBCU’S they are a part of Black history yesterday and today,” Riley said.
Riley is the Creative Director and Founder. She opened the shop in 2017, but it’s been a dream of hers since she was 8-years-old.
“I wanted to be an advertising executive when I was little,” Riley said. “It was odd because people would be like not a firefighter or a police officer? My dad would take me to times square and I was like, I want to make those. I was just so fascinated by all of the ads.”
Her passion for HBCU’s began as a young child as well. It’s all thanks to her parents who are HBCU graduates, but mainly her dad, or Pop, as Riley calls him.
“He actually was a Civil Rights Activist,” Riley said. “He integrated schools in Alabama, so he would always tell me about the importance of HBCUs and the Black experience.”
Riley followed in her Pop’s footsteps. She decided to go to Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University in Tallahassee. She graduated with her degree in graphic design. Her career began in corporate America, but one obstacle changed her course.
“My mom was really sick and had stage three cancer,” Riley said. “The only thing that made me happy at that time was graphic design.”
In 2016, her friends were preparing for FAMU’s homecoming. They called her up and asked if she could make them some shirts.
“I’m extra so I said of course and created a landing page,” Riley explained. “I said hey just order your size and stuff on the page. 100 orders later, I said is this a thing? This happened in a week. That’s when it really hit, getting that feedback from people saying this means so much to me, it’s not just a shirt it’s really a message of my values.”
After that, the HBCU Culture Shop was born. However, getting started was a task within itself.
“As a Black-owned business, funding is always challenging in the beginning,” Riley said. “We put about $10,000 into it and self funded for a lot, which is challenging because your bootstrapping but then you also need inventory on hand.”
Riley said they even faced racial hardships.
“I remember when we would do pitch events and I would be pitching the culture shop and people would say that’s niche or it’s not viable and I would say you don’t understand the depth of support HBCUs have,” Riley shared.
Regardless of the obstacles, Riley and Walters kept pushing. Soon enough, celebrities started wearing the brand.
“I was like wow, Jidenna wearing our stuff? From there Diddy got some of our stuff,” she said.
The HBCU Culture Shop also received seven grants during the COVID-19 pandemic from brands like Beygood, Paypal and American Express. They eventually had partnerships with the Atlanta Hawks and the U.S. Open.
“American Express actually selected us for the top 100 female founded brands,” Riley said. “The U.S. Open wanted to do this HBCU live event where they wanted to highlight the contributions of some of their greatest Black players and HBCU players, so I did the branding for that and a pop-up clothing line, and I’ve been with the U.S. Open the past two year.”
“We were vending at an HBCU event in Birmingham and the founder is associated with the U.S. Open,’ Riley said. “We’re out there and a Target buyer is there and they loved our merchandise. They said they wanted to pitch us to to some of our other buyers, it’s not my department but I feel like you need to be there and I want an HBCU line in Target.”
After talking to nearly five Target buyers beginning in May of 2022, Target eventually said they wanted to move forward.
“Target is a true partner for us and they really allowed us to be super involved every step of the way,’ Riley said.
The HBCU Culture Shop is now in more than 20 Target stores across the country. It’s a successful accomplishment Riley hopes serves as inspiration and representation.
“I’m enjoying the impact of what it is we are actually doing. What I really hope is people are able to resonate with HBCU’s or even feel inspired to look more into HBCU’s. This is really for the culture. This is really a labor of love”
The HBCU Culture Shop merchandise is located in Target stores that are nearby HBCU’s. No Tampa stores currently have the merchandise, however, it is available online.
WFLA reached out to Target for an interview, but they were not available.
Riley and Walters do an HBCU homecoming tour annually. Their tour begins this weekend at Alabama A & M University. For their full tour schedule, click here.